Pow­er­ful Venezuela assem­bly meets again as pres­sure mounts

Threats of deep­en­ing sanc­tions from trade part­ners

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CARA­CAS: For­eign min­is­ters from 14 na­tions are meeting in Peru yes­ter­day in hopes of find­ing con­sen­sus on a re­gional re­sponse to Venezuela’s grow­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, while Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s all-pow­er­ful con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly is forg­ing ahead on prom­ises to pun­ish the em­bat­tled leader’s foes.

The assem­bly was ex­pected to gather at the stately leg­isla­tive palace in Cara­cas for the first time since vot­ing Satur­day to re­move the na­tion’s out­spo­ken chief pros­e­cu­tor, a move that drew con­dem­na­tion from many of the same re­gional gov­ern­ments that are send­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the meeting in Peru’s cap­i­tal. Peru’s pres­i­dent has been vo­cal in re­ject­ing the new assem­bly, but the re­gion has found that agree­ing on any col­lec­tive ac­tions has proved tricky. Still, Venezuela is fac­ing mount­ing pres­sure and threats of deep­en­ing sanc­tions from trade part­ners, in­clud­ing a re­cent sus­pen­sion from South Amer­ica’s Mer­co­sur.

In­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism

De­spite grow­ing in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism, Maduro has re­mained firm in press­ing the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly for­ward in ex­e­cut­ing his pri­or­i­ties. He called for a spe­cial meeting yes­ter­day in Cara­cas of the Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance, a left­ist coali­tion of 11 Latin Amer­i­can na­tions. The new con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly has sig­naled it will act swiftly in fol­low­ing through with Maduro’s com­mands, vot­ing Satur­day to re­place chief pros­e­cu­tor Luisa Ortega Diaz with a gov­ern­ment loy­al­ist and cre­ate a “truth com­mis­sion” that will wield un­usual power to prosecute and levy sen­tences.

“It should be clear: We ar­rived there to help Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, but also to cre­ate strong bases for the con­struc­tion of Bo­li­var­ian and Chav­ista so­cial­ism,” Dios­dado Ca­bello, a leader of the rul­ing so­cial­ist party and mem­ber of the new assem­bly, told a crowd of sup­port­ers Mon­day. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers, mean­while, vowed to re­main in their posts in their only gov­ern­ment foothold - the coun­try’s sin­gle-cham­ber congress, the Na­tional Assem­bly.

John Mag­daleno, di­rec­tor of the Cara­cas-based con­sult­ing firm POLITY, said that rather than hav­ing co-ex­ist­ing as­sem­blies and chief pros­e­cu­tors, it is more likely that op­po­si­tion-con­trolled in­sti­tu­tions will be ren­dered pow­er­less as Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion fur­ther con­sol­i­dates Venezuela into an au­thor­i­tar­ian state.

The op­po­si­tion-dom­i­nated Na­tional Assem­bly “will be a body that in prin­ci­pal co-ex­ists with the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly but that will surely be dis­placed in prac­tice,” Mag­daleno said. Na­tional Assem­bly pres­i­dent Julio Borges told fel­low law­mak­ers Mon­day that they should keep an ac­tive pres­ence in the leg­isla­tive palace de­spite threats from the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly to strip them of any author­ity and lock up key lead­ers. Borges called the build­ing, with its gold cupola, the “sym­bol of pop­u­lar sovereignty.”

“We are a tes­ta­ment to the fight for democ­racy,” he said. “It should be known this assem­bly was true to its man­date.” In the­ory, both the Na­tional Assem­bly and the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly could op­er­ate si­mul­ta­ne­ously, but the new su­per body cre­ated through a July 30 elec­tion has the author­ity to trump any other branch of gov­ern­ment - and Venezuela’s lead­ers have promised to do just that.

Na­tional Assem­bly mem­bers voted unan­i­mously Mon­day not to rec­og­nize any of the new su­per body’s de­crees. “The in­tent is to pur­sue those who think dif­fer­ently,” law­maker Delsa Solorzano said of the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly’s plans. Ca­bello said that the new assem­bly’s de­ci­sions have all aligned strictly with the 1999 con­sti­tu­tion crafted by the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez and that the new assem­bly would be in power for “at least two years.” “This is a com­pletely le­gal process,” he said.

The widen­ing po­lit­i­cal gulf comes as op­po­si­tion par­ties face a rapidly ap­proach­ing dead­line to de­cide whether they will take part in re­gional elec­tions sched­uled for De­cem­ber. Can­di­dates are ex­pected to sign up to run this week. Op­po­si­tion mem­bers re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion for del­e­gates to the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly but have thus far been di­vided on tak­ing part in the con­tests for gover­nors.

Lead­ers are skep­ti­cal

While Maduro’s pop­u­lar sup­port is es­ti­mated to run at no higher than 20 per­cent, some op­po­si­tion lead­ers are skep­ti­cal of run­ning in re­gional elec­tions they fear could be rigged. The of­fi­cial turnout count in the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly elec­tion has been ques­tioned at home and abroad. The CEO of vot­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pany Smart­matic said last week that the re­sults were “with­out a doubt” tam­pered with and off by at least 1 mil­lion votes.

On Sun­day, a band of 20 anti-gov­ern­ment fighters at­tacked an army base in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to fo­ment an up­ris­ing. The men man­aged to reach the bar­racks’ weapons sup­ply. Ten es­caped, but two were killed and the re­main­ing eight were cap­tured af­ter bat­tling with sol­diers for three hours, Maduro said. De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez said spe­cial units were be­ing ac­ti­vated Mon­day to as­sist in the search for the es­capees, who re­mained at large more than 24 hours af­ter the at­tack.—AP

CARA­CAS: In this Fri­day, Aug 4, 2017 file photo, Venezuela’s Con­sti­tu­tional Assem­bly poses for an of­fi­cial photo af­ter be­ing sworn in, at the Na­tional Assem­bly. —AP

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